Tag Archives: Seven-spot Ladybird

St. Patrick’s Day and the start of true Spring

Because the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Greystones yesterday was so spectacular, and large, and blessed by sunny weather, I opted to upload that video on its own, and devote a second video to my annual St. Patrick’s Day nature walk. This year’s was far less dramatic, but far more beautiful, although the weather did get interesting later in the day, with showers of freezing rain and hailstones. So here is the video, but read on after it too:

Whereas last year it snowed the day after St. Patrick’s Day, today something more welcome occurred – I found my first Tawny Mining Bee of the season, and it was a female, the earliest female of this species I’ve ever found. She appears at the end of the video too, but here’s a close-up shot of this very beautiful bee:

St. Patrick’s Day is traditionally held on the anniversary of St. Patrick’s death. However, in ancient times 17th March was a very important feast day, that of the god of fertility, Bacchus, aka Dionysius, marking the arrival of true Spring. Because astronomical spring in Ireland also marks the arrival of warmer spring weather. This coming Wednesday, 20th March, is the Equinox. At 9.58 in the evening the earth is exactly halfway on it’s journey around the Sun, and day and night are of equal length and the Sun rises directly in the east and sets directly in the west. From that day on, until the Summer Solstice in June, the days get progressively longer than the nights. Exciting.

 

Butterfly Spring

While it is quite possible to see a hibernating butterfly emerge on a rare sunny day in the depths of winter, it doesn’t usually happen, and I don’t ever really feel like a spring has begun until I see a butterfly. I saw my first this year only three days ago, on Friday, the very first day of March. As is the case almost every year, it was a Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae), and it was perched in a sheltered area, on the iron grey branch of an old apple tree:

This Small Tortoiseshell almost certainly emerged from its chrysalis late last summer, or in the early autumn. However, it was in pretty good nick so it might have gone into hibernation very soon after hatching, as it bears none of the injuries butterflies get after a few days on the wing. Well, mostly. There are some patches of colour missing.

On Wednesday I saw another spring moth, the Pale Brindled Beauty (Phigalia pilosaria), which likes to perch under lighted windows. It is a lovely species, although drab in colour, and it flies from now until the end of May, or thereabouts:

   If you look closely, although you don’t have to look too closely, you will see the familiar bright scarlet or orange of our most common ladybird species, the Seven-spot Ladybird (Coccinella septempunctata), which is beloved of children and adults alike. At the moment they are basking in sunlight, and with so few aphids around (their favourite food) at this time of year they depend heavily on the pollen of spring plants:

   I’m glad to say there are lots more spring wildflowers about now. One of the most important of all is the Lesser Celandine (Ficaria verna), which is very beautiful and very important as a source of pollen for spring insects, although many of them eat the pollen rather than carry it to other flowers:

However, spring will not be properly and reliably here until the Spring Equinox, which this year occurs on 20th March, at the precise time of 9.58 pm in the evening. Right now, as I write this, we have torrential rain, and snow brought in by ex-Hurricane Freya. Fortunately our ground temperatures are nicely above average and will keep any snow from sticking.

Spring: at last

It has been a whole month-and-a-half since I wrote the last instalment of this blog. Why? Because Spring stopped. Yes, it seems incredible, but even though crocuses came up out of the ground it became too cold for them to unfurl, until last week when suddenly spring began properly. And here they are as you can still see them:

25543338410_2066360d21Although this winter just gone has been by no means our coldest, it was by far wettest. Normally, even in cold years there are some warm and sunny winter days, but not this year. It just didn’t happen. Almost everyday was consistently cloudy and almost every day up until a few weeks ago, there was rain. So temperatures never rose over 10 Celsius. The frogspawn which appeared early froze solid. The female Early Thorn moth very likely died without mating, having woken too early. Here is a male I photographed only yesterday, six weeks later in the spring:

25539482190_42480ee7acFor all that time the Lesser Celandine managed a small number of flowers, since the sun and warmer temperatures which arrived late last week, they a erupting with blooms:

25209652354_7d7c61c668Flowers are vital because so many small creatures depend on their pollen and nectar for food, and in turn so many larger creatures depend on those insects for food, and so on and so forth. It really has been a tough winter, but at last spring is doing what it should do. If you look carefully at trees and bushes around Wicklow which have managed to keep their foliage you will see Green Shieldbugs (Palomena prasina) sunbathing on them. In winter they turn brown to match brown foliage and dried leaves. Most of the year they are shiny green. Here’s one changing from brown to green, but some have already done so:

25840182115_4e1fc8e856Because they are herbivorous sap-feeding insects shieldbugs can survive throughout the year on shrubs, but other insects need to eat small insects which only thrive when plants do, and pollen. Seven-spot Ladybirds in particular await spring blooms so they can feed on pollen, but at this time of the year they are mostly sunbathing, to warm themselves up after a period of partial hibernation:

25719231192_aa3a2384cdAt this time of year you will very likely see large queen bumblebees flying around, collecting pollen from flowers, but many people also tell me they see a lot of honeybees. However, in most cases what they are actually seeing are Drone Flies, large hoverflies which pupate over winter, having spent their young lives as aquatic maggots living in stagnant pools. However, we depend heavily on them to pollinate our flowering plants:

25719232592_70b173ac0bAnd, once you’ve got flies going about, it’s only a matter of time before you see spiders, which generally lie low in winter due to the lack of insect prey. Here is a handsome little one I spotted a couple of days ago, a young Nursery-web Spider (Pisaura mirabilis) which also likes to bask on sunny walls, only making a web during the breeding season. Now, hopefully, all will follow the normal course of the seasons, and get sunnier and warmer.